MIAMI - Susan Samtur was armed with so many coupons that the grocery store cashier had to keep hitting a button to make sure she got credit for it all.
To be exact, she racked up $143.66 in coupon savings.
Samtur, dubbed the Coupon Queen more than 30 years ago, was touring South Florida to share her savings secrets. On a recent Thursday morning, the New York native filled her cart at a Publix Super Market with fresh cantaloupe, orange juice, laundry detergent, bread, spaghetti sauce and mouthwash, doing the kind of shopping that she might have when she was buying groceries for a family of six.
The original price of Thursday's shopping trip was $168.52. Samtur paid just $11.77 after combining dozens of coupons with sale prices.
Samtur's combination of experience, eyes that never miss a deal, and organization has helped millions of people shave their food bills. She has shared her coupon techniques during countless television appearances and is a contributing editor for Family Circle magazine.
She knows her extreme savings may not be possible for every family, but especially now, she said, even saving a fraction of what she does on shopping can really add up.
"People say 'What's 50 cents?' You know, if you have 10 50-cent coupons, that's $5. If you have 10 $1 coupons, that's $10. That's $500 a year," she said.
She watches for simple savings, such as coupons attached to products at the store, larger-size products offered at the same price as a smaller-size item, and store coupons that can be combined with manufacturers' coupons - on top of sale prices. She also cruises food company Web sites for coupons for free new products and rebates on products she already buys, netting her $200 in cash a month - but that's something she knows isn't for everyone because it can be time consuming.
Americans have become more comfortable with and in greater need of coupons, according to a survey by the Promotion Marketing Association Coupon Council. Its survey from last summer showed that 94 percent of people said they were using coupons for grocery, household and health-care products compared with 89 percent the year before.
Samtur, 64, said that with more coupons in circulation than ever, there's no reason to not use them at least occasionally. When she started clipping coupons in the early '70s, she said, there were about 23 million coupons offered each year. Now, there are 300 billion, she said, while reaching for a cup of Dannon yogurt.
The yogurt was priced at 70 cents per cup. Samtur had two coupons that made the items free and two more coupons for 50 cents off. She paid a total of 40 cents for four cups of yogurt - less than the cost of just one at the regular price.
Besides the Sunday newspaper, other places make finding coupons simple, including Samtur's free monthly magazine, Refundle Bundle, and Web sites such as couponmom.com, coupons.smartsource.com and couponwinner.com.
Web sites offer lists of coupons that can be checked off and printed at once, and codes that can be entered when buying from online retailers.
"It's not such a hassle at this point," said Lenka Keston, senior product manager at couponwinner.com and promotionalcodes.com. "It used to be moms or grandmoms looking through the paper and clipping out coupons. We just want it to be simple and easy."
Both Samtur and Keston encourage first-timers to start out small. The experience will be rewarding and lead to using more coupons.
Samtur got her start when she and her husband, both teachers at the time, bought their first home in 1972. She saved $1,500 her first year - enough to pay the heating bill.
Kendall, Fla., mom Suzy Casanueva is where Samtur was way back then. Her husband's hours were cut sharply back in November, so the family had to find a way to save money.
"I actually look at the circulars now. I used to line my kitty litter boxes with them," said Casanueva, who has been dubbed the Coupon Girl by the manager at the Winn-Dixie where she shops.
Casanueva, who has a 6-year-old son, now spends about a half-hour planning her shopping, looking at the sales and printing and clipping coupons before she goes to the store. She has reduced a typical grocery bill of $120 to $40.
A recent coup: Kraft Barbecue Sauce was on sale - buy one, get one free. The sauce cost 89 cents. Casanueva had a coupon for $1. The store actually gave her the 11-cent difference.
"For as easy as it is," she said, "a lot of people should be doing it."